Do Something That Scares You

austin blogpost picI moved to Helsinki from Chicago in August of 2013 to begin my studies at University of Helsinki. Unlike many expats who relocate to Finland, I did not move here for love or a job at a tech company. If I am really honest, I knew little to nothing about what to expect from Finland, other than cold winters, more personal space on public transit than I was ever afforded in Chicago and the fact that my mother's family came over from somewhere in Finland around 1900. Yet I somehow found my way to Helsinki anyway, with no friends or family here to speak of, and a whole lot of uncertainty as my primary companion.

This is where my provocative little title comes into play: I did something that scared me.

That's the thing about scaring yourself (within reason, of course); the results are often more pleasant than the anxiety and fear and uncertainty that accompany taking a risk would lead you to believe. I'm sure we all know people who embrace complacency instead of seeking out new experiences. It's not always easy to throw caution to the wind and embrace the unknown, but I do my best to attempt doing so as often as I can.

Life has a funny way of making things happen for you if you're willing to embrace the uncertainty that comes with it. This is precisely how I found myself cast as Tom in Neil LaBute's "Fat Pig." A friend of mine forwarded me the contact information for Stina, our fearless director. I knew little about the play and even less about The Finn-Brit Players, but I decided to reach out to Stina anyway. Was I scared? You bet. But I was ready to see what happened anyway because I knew that I had nothing to lose and only things to gain.

Since stepping into Tom's shoes, I've noticed a few things about who he is and how he lives his life. As you'll surely see in the play, Tom is no stranger to going with the flow and avoiding conflict. He leads a very safe life, and it isn't until he meets Helen that we see what happens when he finally decides to take a chance and do something that is outside of his comfort zone.

This is perhaps one of the many things that makes "Fat Pig" the work of comedic genius that it is. Any time you take a character and put them into a situation that is foreign to them, the laughs (and awkwardness) are sure to follow. Tom's attempts at embracing the things that scare him create interesting character dynamics, conversations and story arcs that I am very excited to share with the audience.

Of course, doing things that scare you don't always work out exactly as we would like. But that's really the beauty of life, isn't it? Making mistakes. Finger painting instead of staying in the lines. That sort of thing. What happens to Tom, you ask? Well, you'll just have to come and see for yourself.

As for my own life, I can surely say that Helsinki has given me many chances to do things that scare me. Some of them worked magnificently in my favor, while others blew up in my face. C'est la vie. But I must admit that I do get a chuckle when I reflect on the experiences I've had here. From carrying an Ikea mattress through central Helsinki and on public transportation, to my struggles with the Finnish language and accompanying mishaps with pronunciation, my life has had no shortage of comedy since I arrived.

So, do yourself a favor and do something that scares you. Oh, and come and see our production of Fat Pig. It's sure to give you ideas about ways to challenge the status quo and embrace the things that life throws at you.

Rational vs. Irrational Thoughts

So, I am in a play called 'Fat Pig'. My part is the fat pig of the title. And sure, Helen is just one part among the others I have played, just another person whose skin I am stepping into, whose thoughts I am creating. But this time it is a bit different. This time it touches a little bit closer to home, because - let's face it - I, too, am overweight. Chubby. A fat pig. I have enjoyed being Helen immensly, but she has also gotten me thinking about my own attitudes and feelings towards my fatness. And, putting it mildly, these thoughts haven't been exactly easy. 

pau silly

We all have our issues with ourselves and our appearances (or at least most of us do), mine just have to do with the whole weight issue. "It is not a shame thing for me," Helens says at one point. Not delving that deep into whether I think she actually means it or not, I truly wish I could say this same thing myself. That there is no shame, that I am perfectly okay with who I am and what I look like. There are days when I think I do feel like that. Honestly. But most of the times, when I think about this particular matter, really think about it, the thoughts that come to my head are somewhat confusing. Conflicting. And not necessarily always so rational.

Often I do feel ashamed. Because fatness is something that you should be able to change by just deciding to do it and then working for it, right? Simple as that. And the fact that I am not able to be so determined and hard-working that I could solve this problem called fatness makes me feel like a failure. Except, well, nothing in life is that simple and the process of losing weight is not so black-and-white - and luckily on many days I also remember this.

Another strong feeling, the one that keeps coming back to me, is guilt. And there are so many levels to this feeling of guilt that I have already lost count. I feel guilty for being a ticking time bomb and a possible burden to society (even though I am healthy now that might change any second, tick tick tick...) I feel guilty for not sticking to the healthy life changes that I very often try to make. And on some sad occasions, I feel guilty for wanting to eat.

Then again, there is also the guilt I feel for wanting to change, for not just being happy with the way I look. Because doesn't the fact that I cannot accept myself and the way I look make me a bad role model for my little niece? (But, doesn't the fact that I cannot work really hard for something that I want also make me a bad role model? See, conflicting.) And then there is the biggest question: do I want to change the way I look because of how I feel about myself or because of what I think other people think about me? Can these two things even be separated? And, in the end, does it even matter?

'Fat Pig' is a comedy. It is a brilliant comedy that I am proud to be a part of. It is a comedy that provokes thoughts. For me, it has been quite a struggle at points to process the thougths that have emerged, and as you may notice, a lot of these thoughts I haven't been able to process completely yet and some I probably never will. But I think it is a good thing that with being involved in this play, I have been analysing these thoughts that have been with me for most of my life a bit more deeply than I normally would. Because by not escaping these thoughts but actually going through them maybe one day I will be in a place where I can with full honesty say "It is not a shame thing for me. Not anymore." Or who knows, maybe I will be able to find a way to make those heatlhier life choices stick. Or maybe I will just go on another diet. We'll see.

And just to not take myself too seriously, here is a silly picture of myself. :)

Why 'Fat Pig'? - A Word from the Director

With opening night a mere month (or less) away, I keep having dreams about giving birth. I'm sleeping very little (unrelated to the content of my dreams). My stomach is acting up. Why would anyone put themselves through this thing called 'directing a play'? Well, for several wonderful reasons, mostly to do with he joys of creative efforts. But above all, the play's the thing.

Last year, looking for a play to direct, I asked Pauliina – the girl who, incidentally, ended up playing the leading lady in our production – for recommendations. She has an extensive library of new-ish plays and can always be trusted to come up with ideas. I knew I wanted to direct something contemporary with a fairly small cast. She gave me a few plays to read, and immediately Neil LaBute’s ‘Fat Pig’ struck a chord with me. But why?

It feels very current. The people it depicts, their behaviour and dilemmas. All of it.  Body image, body-shaming, obsessive relationship with food, self-medicating with food or exercise, commitment issues and a shallow attitude towards dating and partners. The play premiered off-Broadway in 2004, which – gasp – is already more than 10 years ago, and yet I’d say it rings even truer today.

Selfies and mobile dating apps. Never before has the dating pool been so much about the images we project into the world, and never before have we been so casual about rejection and acceptance. Swipe right, swipe left – based on what you think someone looks like or just how they’d like to be seen. In an environment like this, what happens to real human emotions and fears? How do we cope with intimacy, honesty and the inevitable flaws we encounter in others as well as ourselves?

In my view, ‘Fat Pig’ is a moving, clever, if dark comedy about how difficult dating and opening up to a new person can be. It’s also an accurate portrayal of, let’s be frank, Open Office Hell and certain types of workmate relations. We all have our baggage and can recognize the foolishness portrayed on stage.

The characters of the play are funny but also heart-breaking examples of perhaps how not to deal with insecurities and bad experiences. The play is provocative and doesn’t let the audience off the hook easily. What would you do? How would you feel if…? A comedy that makes you think. That’s something. One that may also make you cry a little because it smacks of truth, that’s special.